New to a career in learning and development? Here’s 12 things I wish I’d learned earlier.

Being new to a career in learning and development can feel difficult. There is so much to learn!

There are however some faux pas I can help you avoid, by learning from my mistakes.

The sooner you get to grips with training evaluation the better – and I’m not just talking about happy sheets!

Evaluation of training seems to be one of those topics in learning and development everyone talks about. We know that we should do it, but few organisations seem to have this truly nailed.

Most practitioners know about ‘happy sheets’ which measure immediate impact of training, but in all honesty they don’t really tell you very much. They’re usually a last minute scribble as everyone scrambles out the room and back to work.

To truly evaluate training you need to go deeper, understanding the return on investment or expectation for both the individuals, the managers and the organisation. There are a number of ways that you can do this which I’ll cover deeper in a separate blog series.

Bums on seats is not a measure of success

Yes it’s a measure – but it doesn’t illustrate impact (As per the point above)

I see so many learning and development teams share their key performance indicators (KPI’s), reporting on their success on KPI’s such as, average training hours per person, number of attendees per department or any other KPI that illustrates the business of the training team – rather than the output.

Reporting on how many people you have trained is a measure that you have managed to engage staff, but how do you know if they’ve learned anything that has had a measurable impact on personal or business performance. Without illustrating impact against key business measures you can’t truly demonstrate your teams success.

Telling people is one of the least effective learning methods

Early in my career I used to have slides covering all kinds of details, and my training started very much like a briefing session – tell first, activities second. I learned very quickly that this isn’t the best way to facilitate learning.

People need space to learn, activities that support the learning objective and opportunities to practice back on the job – all these things I never used to consider in my tell focused training! Take a look back at some training you’ve ran recently, where was the focus? Read 11 skills of a good trainer, to improve your training skills.

Beware the sheep dip approach

If you aren’t familiar with the terminology sheep dipping just means giving everyone the same learning, regardless of their skills, knowledge or experience.

I’m not suggesting that you should never use this approach as it does have its benefits in certain circumstances such as a new process or briefing that everyone must have.

Does everyone really need the exact same learning? Everyone learns differently and has varying experience levels. Providing options when it comes to learning is a fantastic way to engage your audience at a level that suits them, and also builds your credibility as a practitioner. Personalised learning principles are a great way to avoid sheep dipping.

To be able to deliver an effective learning intervention you need to fully understand who you’re working with

It sounds obvious enough, what worked for one team may not for another.

In my early days I didn’t pay enough attention to this. I would deliver the same learning to different teams, assuming that the experience would be the same. I realised very quickly that this isn’t the case and that by spending some time getting to know the team/department culture is important as it can have a huge effect on the training. The classic example being if there are big changes happening in the department – you should know about this in advance in case it overtakes the session.

The more personalised the learning to the team/department the more effective it will be.

Where possible blend your learning for maximum effect

Blended learning is offering a varied approach to a learning intervention. A simple example could be theory covered via e-learning with a skills based focus in the face to face.

It can sit nicely alongside avoiding sheep dipping! By blending, you can target different elements for different audiences, such as the basics in an e-learning package for less experienced staff, face to face for others, or just an on the job observation for those who are already very experienced. Get creative when it comes to blended learning – there is no best route but it’s fantastic for helping learning stick.

Beware the sticky plasters

Ah the sticky plasters – we all will experience this at some point (if not many times!) in our learning and development careers. It can be defined as someone, usually the persons manager, requesting a training course for their staff or team to fix a problem they should just be addressing through performance management.

The classic example of this being a time management course – will sending them on a course really ‘fix’ this issue or is it more about the manager and the individual looking at their workload or competence completing tasks. Don’t be afraid to challenge their request.

Learning technology can be just as effective as the classroom

Some traditional practitioners aren’t always keen on using learning technologies but in the modern world we can’t escape them. If you use them the right way you can have just as much impact through a webinar, e-learning module, or micro-learning video, it just takes a bit more thought around how you set up the learning experience. Again, this sits nicely alongside both blended learning and sheep dipping mentioned earlier in this blog post. Learn how to use virtual training here

You don’t need to be an expert in everything and have all the answers

This one can sometimes be difficult when your’e new to a career in learning and development. Yes you are the ‘learning and development expert’ for your organisation but this doesn’t mean you have to know everything. You can appear just as credible saying you don’t know and following up once you have the answer.

The lesson plan is just a guide

Another one that would catch me out early days was the lesson plan, once I’d put those timings on the paper that was it.

I’d find myself getting stressed and agitated if I wasn’t sticking to my lesson plan (dramatic I know!). However, over the years I’ve learned not to worry about sticking exactly to time, every group is different, some elements will take longer, others shorter. As long as you are prepared in your subject area you can work around any timing issues.

Asking the right questions is key

Questioning is one of the most important skills I didn’t know I needed when I was new to a career in learning and development. Whether it’s learning and development consulting, delivering training or working on a 1:1 basis. Questioning can be one of your most powerful tools in understanding requirements or getting to the root cause of issues. By truly listening first and asking the right questions you can get to the heart of any learning need.

Your learning and development strategy should be aligned to business objectives

If it isn’t, take a look at the key business priorities for your company and consider what can you help that company achieve through improving team performance.

If you aren’t directly linked to Learning and Development strategy, you still influence it on a lower level. All your learning interventions should relate back to the wider strategy and be focused on improving business performance.

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Little book of learning and development essentials
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